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Sign, seal, and deliver mind-numbing form letters in this fun game


When Lucas Pope made Papers, Please, which I think is one of the best games of my lifetime, he showed that bureaucracy can be darkly funny, even as it inexorably squeezes the life out of a person, a system.

You don't think games about signing and stamping and shuffling and checking numbers can be engaging, and yet there's something mysteriously compelling about the simple, repetitive tasks. With the brand-new jam game Unsolicited, Pope delivers a little game about sending out form letters for timeshares, charities, sweepstakes, bill collectors and more, and again he manages to unearth the secret glee we all conceal at being an agent of performance. It's fun and you can't help it and what is wrong with the human brain?


It's the way Pope makes everything feel touchable, the rustling of colorful paper sheets, the scratch of pen on paper, that keeps me glued to Unsolicited. Against a time limit, you have to fill in the correct fields across an increasing variety of notices. Other people's names blur rudely together; their chance to win, their dream vacation, their kind donation becomes a jumble of statistics, backdropped by color-popped stationery logos and exhortations to prioritize client care from your employer.

Unsolicited was made for the recent Ludum Dare 33 weekend game jam, whose theme was "You are the Monster". We're seeing all kinds of clever stuff coming out of the jam: games about everything from the European refugee crisis to everyday misanthropy.

Pope is currently working on Return of the Obra Dinn, a sort of mystery-exploration game about a shipwreck.

Bureaucrats of the world

Dutch photographer Jan Banning's book "Bureaucratics" is a collection of amazing photos of bureaucrats on five continents, each posed at his or her desk, in her or his office, with notes about rank and salary. Pictured above, "India bureau typeroom," Bihar. Below, Sheriff of Crockett County, TX.

The photography has a conceptual, typological approach reminding of August Sander’s ‘Menschen des 20 Jahrhunderts’ (‘People of the Twentieth Century’). Each subject is posed behind his or her desk. The photos all have a square format (fitting the subject), are shot from the same height (that of the client), with the desk – its front or side photographed parallel to the horizontal edges of the frame – serving as a bulwark protecting the representative of rule and regulation against the individual citizen, the warm-blooded exception. They are full of telling details that sometimes reveal the way the state proclaims its power or the bureaucrat’s rank and function, sometimes of a more private character and are accompanied by information such as name, age, function and salary. Though there is a high degree of humour and absurdity in these photos, they also show compassion with the inhabitants of the state’s paper labyrinth.

Bureaucratics (via Super Punch)

1978: Nevada puzzles over labor classification of brothel workers

William sez, "On August 2, 1978, a landmark decision in Reno Federal Court ruled prostitutes are actually brothel employees and therein lies the SIC coding problem unique to Nevada. My father in law was an economist for the federal bureau of labor statistics. Today he shared with me a document he found in the back of a desk drawer. Apparently the folks in Nevada responsible for categorizing businesses by industry (formerly called the Standard Industrial Classification system, now known as NAICS) weren't sure how to label brothels, which had previously been staffed by independent contractors until such practice had been deemed illegal. Thus a victory for worker rights became a nightmare for the local government officials."


Funny fake planning notices

Artist/prankster Phil Lucas puts up fake "planning notices" around Brighton, England, announcing his plans to radically improve the cityscape and inviting people to comment via the local government's planning authority.

I live in Hackney, which boasts England's "worst performing planning authority" (as one MP recently put it in Parliament), so I sympathise with these shenanigans. I've been through multiple planning petitions for permission to put a glass box on my disused balcony to grow plants in and use as a dining room in warm months, and have been turned down because it would "disrupt the street-scene" on my manky, dogshit-strewn, tumbling-down road in east London.

Planning Notices in Brighton (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

On the horrors of getting approval for an ice-cream parlour in San Francisco

The NYT's Scott James recounts the insane red-tape endured by Juliet Pries, an entrepreneur who decided to open an ice-cream parlour in San Francisco's Cole Valley. She had to pay rent on an empty storefront for over two years while the necessary permits were processed, and tens of thousands of dollars in fees (including the cost of producing a detailed map of nearby businesses, which the city itself seemed not to have). If the story sounds familiar, it's because it was the subject of a notorious Xtranormal-produced Hello City Planner video that used it as an example to lampoon the planning bureaucracy in San Francisco.

Pries's restaurant, the Ice Cream Bar, is a popular hit, and employs 14 people, but “Many times it almost didn’t happen," as she says, due to the incredibly administrative hurdles she faced in opening it.

Ms. Pries said she had to endure months of runaround and pay a lawyer to determine whether her location (a former grocery, vacant for years) was eligible to become a restaurant. There were permit fees of $20,000; a demand that she create a detailed map of all existing area businesses (the city didn’t have one); and an $11,000 charge just to turn on the water.

The ice cream shop’s travails are at odds with the frequent promises made by the mayor and many supervisors that small businesses and job creation are top priorities.

The matter has also alarmed some business leaders, who point out that few small ventures could survive such long delays.

“Someone of lesser fortitude would have left three months into it,” Ted Loewenberg, president of the Haight Ashbury Improvement Association, said of Ms. Pries. “Through these hard times we’ve heard all the rhetoric about streamlining the process, about one-stop shopping. It hasn’t happened.”

The link comes by way of JWZ, owner of the DNA Lounge and the adjacent pizzeria, who notes that, "I started the process of trying to cut a door in the wall between my restaurant and nightclub in February 2011. It is now February 2012, and we still don't have the necessary permits and have not yet begun construction. If we have a door in that wall -- and are allowed to let people walk through it -- before 2013, we will consider ourselves lucky."

Before Ice Cream Shop Can Open, City’s Slow Churn

Enclose small styrofoam cube in your letters to qualify for parcel-rate discounts on confirmed delivery service

The Indiana Election Division sends its notices out with a small styrofoam cube in the envelope; the cube increases the envelope's thickness to 3/4", so it qualifies for discounted parcel-rate shipping.

The Styrofoam cube enclosed in this envelope is being included by the sender to meet a United States Postal Service regulation. This regulation requires a first class letter or flat using the Delivery or Signature Confirmation service to become a parcel and that it "is in a box or, if not in a box, is more than 3/4 of an inch thick at its thickest point." The cube has no other purpose and may be disposed of upon opening this correspondence.